Part of Afternoon Delight wants to be a sitcom, and part wants to be a John Cassavetes film. That these two sides never find harmony is no surprise. The movie is a mishmash of material—some strong and some not—with no sense of tone or intent. For every promising moment, there’s a frustrating feeling of missed opportunity.
Writer/director Jill Soloway targets the familiar topic of suburban boredom, with a stripper-prostitute serving as the catalyst that disrupts the comfort of everyday life. Kathryn Hahn stars as Rachel, an affluent housewife with an ideal husband, Jeff (Josh Radnor). Rachel is bored with life’s routine and distressed that she and Jeff haven’t had sex for six months. To spice things up, Rachel convinces Jeff to go to a strip club with her and some friends.
After receiving a lap dance from a stripper named McKenna (Juno Temple), Rachel becomes entranced. She fakes a chance meeting with the simple, blunt blonde, then starts meeting her for coffee every day. When McKenna dramatically ends up leaving her apartment, Rachel invites her to come live in her house and work as a nanny.
There is a sense of liberal guilt guiding Rachel, as she keeps talking about helping McKenna find a better life. (For McKenna’s part, she had never suggested that she wanted to get out of the “full-service sex worker” business.) But equal motivation stems from the desire to add adventurous instability to her domestic life.
Hahn is very likable as Rachel, but doesn’t quite internalize her characters’ infatuation in a way that elevates and focuses the drama. She isn’t helped by the movie’s confusion over its identity.
Soloway is an established TV writer with credits like United States of Tara and Six Feet Under. Here, she spins some engaging dialogue for her likable actors—Jane Lynch is a pleasure as Rachel’s self-centered psychiatrist)—but doesn’t seem entirely sure what she wants to say. One scene she’s doing obvious, cutesy gags about casual nudity, the next she’s staging a loud drunken confessional.
Temple’s performance is intriguing thanks largely to her character’s nonchalance. She doesn’t want to garner sympathy with a sob story; she’s just living her matter-of-fact life. Even when she’s drawing everyone’s attention in Rachel’s pool, she does so without a hint of effort. It feels like a genuine, “Oh yeah, I’m used to being sexy” rather than a coy, “Why, I only wear this when I don’t care how I look!”
But Afternoon Delight lets down her character, as well. As it nears its climax, contrivances spring from all directions. An attempt to add emotional depth to McKenna rings hollow because it’s simply a means to a sexy, scandalous finale. Rather than really examine the female leads’ insecurities and emotions, Soloway goes for the obvious conclusions—and does so in a way that lets the main characters off the hook on the biggest issues. As the sense of a genuine story fades, so does any interest in the characters.
Director: Jill Soloway
Writer: Jill Soloway
Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jessica St. Clair, Jane Lynch and Michaela Watkins
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2013